As far as celebrity deaths go, some are more eerie and mysterious than others. One of those is the infamous “ghost plane” crash that killed six people, including professional golfer Payne Stewart.
Payne Stewart, an American golfer aged 42, died on a plane due to its failure to pressurize. Stewart, along with his two business agents, a golf course designer, and two pilots, was incapacitated by, and likely died of, hypoxia shortly after takeoff.
Let’s dive into everything we know about Payne Stewart, who he was, his golfing career, legacy, and finally, the details surrounding his plane’s heartbreaking crash.
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Who Was Payne Stewart?
Payne Stewart was one of the most talented golfers of his generation. He started playing professionally in the early 80s. A couple of decades later, he’d won 11 PGA Tour events over his golfing journey, including three major championships.
Stewart was considered by many to be one of the best putters in the history of professional golf. Beyond his fluid and strongly admired style on the course, he was a family man who’s known for his fun-loving character and fashion.
Golf photo-reporters always loved to capture his colorful and traditional golfing attire. His signature outfit was a plus four and argyle socks.
Beyond his prowess on the course, he was also a multi-millionaire, having made over 2 million dollars in the last championship he won alone.
Following his father’s death, he donated over a hundred thousand pounds to a Florida hospital in his honor.
How Did He Die?
The details of the flight that ended the lives of six people make this story that much more unsettling. It’s believed by most people that the passengers had already died within the first 20 minutes of the 4-hour flight.
Anyone who was old enough to watch the news in 1999 could probably remember the events of the “ghost plane” crash. The whole country watched while the US military attempted to intercept the flight for hours.
An Innocuous Takeoff
On October 25, 1999, Payne Stewart, along with his two business agents, Robert Fraley and Van Ardan, and a golf course designer, Bruce Borland, were visiting a golf course in Frisco, Texas. He was supposed to assist in designing this golf course.
Stewart was also scheduled to play later that week at the last event of the season, the PGA tournament in Housten, Texas.
Things were looking fairly normal when the Learjet plane N47BA was cleared for takeoff around 9:19 AM, according to the Federal Aviation Association.
The First Signs of Trouble
Less than 30 minutes later, the whole crew was unresponsive to the air traffic controller’s radio communication.
This was also around the same time the plane started changing altitude erratically, signaling that something was wrong.
The plane had also started bearing off track from its original destination, Dallas. The plane started heading northwest.
The Avian Chase
At 10:08, a US Marine Air Force fighter was sent to make a visual check on the radio-silent plane.
After multiple attempts from different jets and aircrafts to intercept and catch up to the Learjet plane, two National Guard fighters finally did almost 3 hours later.
It was reported that the cockpit was frozen or fogged up, indicating that there’s been an issue with the pressurization of the aircraft. No signs of life were detected.
If a plane doesn’t pressurize correctly, it doesn’t maintain the required oxygen levels for passengers to breathe safely. It also means that they lost oxygen within minutes of takeoff.
By that point, updates of the grimly silent flight had made the news.
Despite failsafe systems like oxygen masks in place, it’s likely that the passengers were unable to breathe shortly after takeoff, which would’ve killed them in 10 minutes or so.
The Eerie Aftermath
After 3 hours of radio silence, the plane had traveled all the way to South Dakota, where it ran out of fuel and crashed into a prairie.
Since it ran out of fuel, there was no big explosion or fire. Only an immense level of destruction that fell from the sky nose first.
Luckily, the plane crashed in a completely empty field that belonged to a South Dakota resident. The plane crash caused a crater that was 8 feet deep.
Following the crash, families of the deceased filed a lawsuit against Learjet and the company operating this plane.
The verdict was that the manufacturer of this plane was not responsible for the deaths of Payne Stewart and the other passengers, but it had already gone bankrupt by then.
Payne Stewart’s Legacy
Stewart’s death came as a devastating surprise to all his friends, family, and fans. After he was killed in the plane crash, the owner of the crash site conferred with the families of the deceased and turned the crate into a memorial.
Professional golfers paid tribute to Stewart by wearing his signature outfit. Streets were named after him, and statues were made depicting his winning pose.
On the eve of the 2000 US Open, a memorial was made where contestants celebrated Payne Stewart’s life and hit 21 shots into the Pacific Ocean.
In 2000, PGA Tour established the Payne Stewart Award, one of the highest awards in US golfing. This award is given to those whose “values align with the character, charity, and sportsmanship that Stewart showed.”
Payne Stewart was an extremely talented professional golfer, a husband, and a father. He was known as a jokester, pulling pranks on his closest friends.
During his career, his aptitude as a golfer often came as a surprise to most golf fans, racking up points even in tournaments he did not win.
He died at the age of 42 while consulting on a golf course to be built in hopes of making it the home course of his university.
Stewart led by example on and off the golf course, adhering to what makes a person a good golfer; great sportsmanship, warm personality, being part of the community, and helping those in need.